Nina Welding | February 9, 2017
Oscar Wilde said “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery …” There’s more to that quote, but he could have stopped at “Imitation is the sincerest form.” It is a way to replicate the real thing for a variety of reasons, including foundational research in bioelectrical and biomechanical interfaces for biocomputing.
That imitation — the engineering of cell based models that duplicate the way biological systems interact and process information — is exactly what researchers like Notre Dame’s Pinar Zorlutuna have been pursuing as a basis for bioengineering applications ranging from biorobotics, human-machine interfaces, and treatment for muscular degenerative disorders, arrhythmia, and limb loss.
An assistant professor in the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, Zorlutuna and the Notre Dame team have created a new type of diode, one that is made entirely of cardiac muscle cells and fibroblasts. Their paper titled “Muscle-Cell-Based ‘Living Diodes,’” which was published in the January 11 issue of Advanced BioSystems and subsequently featured on the Wiley online journal Advanced Science News, discusses how using muscle cells as the diode components is ideal for cell-based information processing.
Biocomputing is an emerging field that aims to use biological components for signal processing, but so far it has mostly focused on using genetically modified single-cells or chemical additives to create a computational logic gate. The drawbacks of these options include slower processing and undesired biological side effects. Muscle cells are ideal candidates for use in biocomputing because they are both electrically and mechanically responsive. Additionally, the natural pacing ability of cardiac muscle cells allowed Zorlutuna and her team to modulate the frequency of the electrical activity and pass along information, which was embedded in the electrical signals.